Fri, Jul 02, 2010 - Page 7 News List

Petraeus confirmed in bipartisan vote

COUNTER-INTELLIGENCEIn Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for a daylight attack on a NATO base in Jalalabad that employed a car bomb and rockets

AFP , WASHINGTON

General David Petraeus on Wednesday cruised through his US Senate confirmation as commander of the faltering Afghan campaign, amid deep political divisions over the war and fresh insurgent violence.

The Senate vote came amid a new bout of national soul-searching over the war and following a an attack on a NATO base in eastern Jalalabad by Taliban insurgents.

The 99-0 vote was a rare display of unity between US President Barack Obama’s Democratic allies and Republican foes as both sides hoped Petraeus, credited in Washington with turning the Iraq war around, could do the same in Afghanistan.

“The Senate’s quick action and General Petraeus’s unrivaled experience will ensure we do not miss a beat in our strategy to break the Taliban’s momentum and build Afghan capacity,” Obama said.

Obama named Petraeus to the post after removing General Stanley McChrystal over a bombshell magazine interview in which the commander disparaged civilian leaders in Washington and Kabul as well as US allies.

McChrystal’s stunning fall from grace came at a critical crossroads in the nearly nine-year-old war, with public support buckling and US officials acknowledging progress has been slower than expected.

In Afghanistan, the Taliban claimed responsibility for the brazen daylight attack on the eastern NATO base that employed a car bomb and rocket fire.

Several assailants were killed during the assault and two military personnel were injured, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.

ISAF meanwhile announced the death of its 102nd soldier this month, saying he died on Wednesday from injuries suffered in an attack in eastern Afghanistan. It did not disclose the exact location or any further details of the incident.

Hundreds of NATO and Afghan troops have been hunting insurgents in a major assault in the eastern mountains of Kunar, which neighbors Nangarhar, close to the border with Pakistan.

Petraeus, architect of the US military’s “counterinsurgency” strategy, warned anxious lawmakers on Tuesday that NATO-led forces face “tough fighting” ahead against the insurgency.

“Indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months,” said Petraeus, arguably the most revered military officer in the US.

Petraeus also warned it would take “a number of years” before Afghan security forces could take over for NATO-led troops, a step US officials have described as a precondition for a complete withdrawal.

His confirmation vote came with the US public deeply split on the war. Some polls show most Americans believe the war is not worth fighting and lawmakers are bitterly divided over Obama’s deadline to begin a US withdrawal in July next year.

“Afghanistan is not a lost cause,” said Senator John McCain, the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

McCain called the task of defeating Taliban insurgents and their al-Qaeda allies “hard but not hopeless.”

Democratic Senator Russell Feingold questioned the US-led mission.

“Regardless of who is in command, the president’s current strategy in Afghanistan is counterproductive,” said Feingold, who called for a “flexible timetable” for withdrawal, “not just a start date.”

Democratic support for the conflict has ebbed so severely that Obama will need ample Republican backing to get an emergency war spending bill through the House of Representatives in a hard-fought vote expected this week.

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